One of the most popular authors of the late 19th century, Henry Rider Haggard entered British society at Wood Farm, West Bradenham Hall, Norfolk, England, on the twenty-second day of June, 1856. He was the eighth of ten children born to William and Ella Haggard. William Haggard was successful and prosperous barrister, while his wife Ella fancied herself a poet, although none of her poetry ever achieved publication.
As he passed through childhood, Henry Rider disappointed his father, who placed little faith in his son’s intellectual capabilities. In fact, William Haggard believed that his son was slow. Therefore, unlike his brothers, who attended exclusive private English prep schools, Henry was sent to Ipswich Grammar School and received additional tutoring at home. Years later, in 1875, Henry failed the army entrance exam, not only embarrassing his family but fulfilling his father’s evaluation of his son’s abilities. Because of his connections, William Haggard found employment for Henry. As a result, Henry would become secretary to Sir Henry Bulwer, the lieutenant governor of Natal, a British colony in Africa.
In Africa, Henry Haggard bloomed. He joined the staff of the special commissioner, Sir Theophilus Sheptstone. In the company of the commissioner, Henry traveled into the Transvaal, where the Boers, the Zulus, and the British Army fought for ascendancy. After the British prevailed, and the Boer Republic of the Transvaal was annexed, Henry was appointed Master and Registrar of the High Court in the Transvaal. An ‘enlightened colonialist,’ Henry Rider Haggard perceived the British Empire as a force for good in Africa. He believed that the British Empire liberated oppressed peoples, allowing them the freedom to develop as communities, while maintaining their traditions.
Haggard respected and admired the indigenous peoples of Africa, especially the Zulus, whom he considered mighty warriors. His observations and experiences in Africa formed the foundation of his future literary pursuits. The exotic settings, lost worlds, proud natives, and esoteric, spiritual themes reflected where he had been, what he had done, and what he had seen in Africa.
In 1880, Haggard returned to England for a visit. While there he married Mariana Louisa Margitson, a Norfolk heiress. When Haggard returned to Africa, his wife accompanied him. Haggard owned an ostrich farm in the Transvaal, where the couple set up house. Their life in Africa did not last long.